Friday, June 15, 2007

I Went Back to Ohio, and My College Was Gone*

Horace Mann, the founder of Antioch College, famously said: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

It's bugged me to read that quote since I've become an adult. Why? Because I have guilt. What the hell have I done for humanity? I colored a lot of comic books. I got chased by a hippopotamus. In other words, squat.

Then I go and read blogs about Antioch, where alumni all have mixed feelings but recognize the value of an Antioch education--oh, and they've done all kinds of fabulous things. I look at the list of famous Antiochians. I read about one of my classmates defecating on the then-college president's desk. (Okay, maybe not the last one.) I feel small. So many fought the good fight. And I haven't so much as written my congressman. I'm not even sure who my congressman is.

My final project was a ridiculous video called "A Day In the Life of an Assistant Editor." I followed David Wohl around Marvel Comics for a few weeks in 1988. I tried editing it on Steve Buccellato's home editing deck, but it was a disaster and I ended up editing late into the night on broken equipment in Antioch's MacGregor Hall, just before presenting it.

My advisor knew my senior project was borderline. No victories for humanity were achieved. But we all howled with laughter watching it at Marvel, and Will Roberts (my advisor) let me graduate with no more punishment than a raised eyebrow.

As the news of the college closing has unfolded, it seems that there was a conflict between the university system and the college. Alumni, me included, were asked for money. I tossed the letter out. It was no different than any other year. Schools that teach social justice aren't usually rolling in money and high enrollment.

None of us realized that this crises was any different than any other crises. I couldn't imagine that things were worse than when I attended, from 1984-88.

And if I had realized, would I have given money? Well, sure, fifty bucks or whatever. But Antioch is a school that puts out social activists and creative professionals. Not so many rich people. Would it have changed anything if we'd all kicked in a few bucks, while keeping an eye on our rent? Probably not much. I've recently come to the startling realization that after taxes, more than 50% of my monthly take-home pay goes to rent. Scary.

The school produced radicals and academics for 150 years. Stephen Jay Gould, Coretta Scott King, and Eleanor Holmes Norton are on the list of alumni. And creative people went there too. Rod Serling. Gits singer Mia Zapata. One of the They Might Be Giants Johns.

I haven't done too well on the victory front yet, but I'd say Antioch won its fair share of victories for humanity. Not that this means it's okay for Antioch to die, but as it goes down, it can be proud for having fulfilled its mission as defined by its first president.

*Title swiped from Lisa Whipple's email


Ed Ward said...

Funny about the money thing. The guy I most remember from my tenure there was a super-elitist acid dealer, really a snob. None of my friends ever had anything to do with him. One day some cars appeared on campus and a lot of Japanese guys in suits carrying briefcases appeared and headed to his dorm room.

Long story short, he'd apparently invented the videocassette. Word was the buyout of his patent made him fabulously wealthy.

Oh, and the other notable alumnus from my stint there was Ray Seifert, better known to the world as Ray Benson, leader of Asleep at the Wheel.

Marie Javins said...

And a late friend of mine, who graduated next to me, went to a job interview in a little town near San Francisco. I was visiting, and waited in his old Jaguar while he picked up some paperwork from them later. He had two job offers, one from a big company and one at the company we were at. "It's a little company," he explained. "But I'm taking a chance on it because this little company has a lot of potential."

That company was Adobe. He did very, very well there.

Marie Javins said...

And by the way, the remark about my rent was more a comment on tax/$401k shock than on my salary or my rent. Remember, I haven't had a normal US-based job in a long time.

Anonymous said...

This is a letter that a group of us sent to the chancellor and the chair of the board of trustees. It's an analysis/summary, with a positive plan for the future. (Any alumni who would like to sign can contact me directly at Thanks.)
June 22, 2007

Dear Mr. Zucker and Ms. Murdock,

As graduates of Antioch College in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we can identify with the tragic uncertainty now facing the campus community after the Board of Trustees suddenly announced it is closing the College in Yellow Springs.

We, too, were told that the College would likely be closing at some time during our tenure there because enrollments had dropped and the endowment was too small. As it turned out, that didn’t happen. But the internal debate over the relationship between the main College campus and Antioch’s satellite campuses (it was never a true university no matter what the college PR department said) was high on the agenda in those years.
Many of us remember refusing to shake hands with then College President, William Birenbaum at graduation ceremonies in 1980 as a public protest. It wasn’t merely that we disliked his ideas about education, his arrogance in dealing with students, faculty and staff, or his misguided attempts to funnel resources away from Yellow Springs. An even greater transgression was his total disdain for a cornerstone principle of Antioch College: community governance.

We are outraged and saddened to see that the current Board of Trustees has exhibited a similar lack of regard in the way it has sprung news of the College’s closing on the campus body politic. It has compounded the wrongdoing by not outlining a clear role for that community in key decision making about what kind of institution will supposedly reopen its doors in Yellow Springs in four years.

As this year’s alumni reunion goes forward, we want to deliver a clear message to you and the current College administration: We will not support any future educational institution bearing Antioch’s name that fails to return control and academic focus to the main College in Yellow Springs.

The Board of Trustees needs to be comprised of members who support that mission and who have demonstrated their commitment by contributing to the College campaign. The assets of the College need to be returned to the College—including Antioch University McGregor, which should be merged with the College and come under the control of the College President.

College leaders should launch a democratic process of renewal on campus that will result in a plan for a future educational institution in Yellow Springs that respects the best traditions of Antioch. The current Board of Trustees has betrayed those traditions, both in the way it announced the College closing and in actions it has taken—or failed to take—that have brought us to this pass.

Specifically, the current Board of Trustees reneged on a commitment to raise the needed funds to implement the Renewal Commission Plan that it imposed on the College. In fact, most individual trustees did not even contribute to the campaign. When the fundraising campaign foundered, trustees failed to address the obvious implications for the College. In addition, the board only recently discovered problems with University bookkeeping that disguised previous losses. The University Board of Trustees has failed miserably in its legal and ethical responsibilities and has lost all moral right to the Antioch name and mission. The time has come to return control of Antioch College and its assets to the College community, including its alumni.

We stand ready to pledge money and fundraising energy to a reopening of Antioch. But we will not support any plan created without the involvement and leadership of members of the College community. Nor will we back a future institution that fails to uphold the school’s long established standards of shared decision-making, innovation and the notion that even the privileged realm of higher education can be a proving ground for social justice.


Barbara Solow, Class of 1980, Highland Park, NJ
Christopher Adams, ’87, Landsdowne, PA
Jeanne Badman, ’80, St. Paul, MN
Lesley Pownall Bahr, '83, Buffalo, MN
E. Ann Baldwin, 80, Higganum, CT
Helen Bloch, '78, Forest Hills, NY
Douglas Brodoff, ’77, Paris, France
Marianne Connolly, ‘80, Amherst, MA
Peter Crosman, ’77, Flintridge, CA
Laura Drey, ’80, Durham, NC
David Feinstein, ’79, San Francisco, CA
Cora Hook, '79, Bethlehem, PA
Rob Kenter, ’80, Toronto, ON Canada
Laura Markham, ‘80, New York, NY
Marc J. Masurovsky, '77, Falls Church, VA
Barbara McCann, ‘83, Washington, DC
Lizzie Olesker, ’79, Brooklyn, NY
Glenn Paris, ’80, San Diego, CA
Lydia Dean Pilcher, ’80, New York, NY
Phaye Poliakoff-Chen, ‘80, Baltimore, MD
Scott Pollock, ’80, Evanston, IL
David Pratt, ’80, Brooklyn, NY
Sandina Robbins, ‘80, Oakland, CA
Jodi Solomon, '80, Boston, MA

cc: Steven Lawry, President, Antioch College
Risa Grimes, Director of Alumni Relations

Matt said...

If you're interested a number of us are working overtime on a site to try to organize to save Antioch. There are mailing lists, forums and information about what's going on.

Oh I entered in Fall '87 and was a communications major and I heard for years about the person who made a documentary about Marvel Comics. So your presence echoed for a few years even after you and Wil Roberts moved on :)

-Matt '92